Aberrant activation of embryonic signaling pathways is frequent in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), making developmental regulators therapeutically attractive. Here we demonstrate diverse functions for pancreatic and duodenal homeobox 1 (PDX1), a transcription factor indispensable for pancreas development, in the progression from normal exocrine cells to metastatic PDA. We identify a critical role for PDX1 in maintaining acinar cell identity, thus resisting the formation of pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN)-derived PDA. Upon neoplastic transformation, the role of PDX1 changes from tumor-suppressive to oncogenic. Interestingly, subsets of malignant cells lose PDX1 expression while undergoing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), and PDX1 loss is associated with poor outcome. This stage-specific functionality arises from profound shifts in PDX1 chromatin occupancy from acinar cells to PDA. In summary, we report distinct roles of PDX1 at different stages of PDA, suggesting that therapeutic approaches against this potential target need to account for its changing functions at different stages of carcinogenesis. These findings provide insight into the complexity of PDA pathogenesis and advocate a rigorous investigation of therapeutically tractable targets at distinct phases of PDA development and progression.
© 2016 Roy et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.